Physicist Teller: USSR leads in nuclear race

President Reagan is not alone in asserting that the Soviet Union has clear nuclear weapons superiority over the United States.

Physicist Edward Teller, a key figure in the US nuclear program since World War II, describes the present Soviet lead as both quantitative and qualitative. He is particularly concerned that the Soviets are well ahead in the vital area of developing defensive systems.

Speaking to an overflow Rice University audience in Houston, Dr. Teller warned that the Soviet nuclear lead is part of an overall strategy aimed at expanding Soviet control first in the Middle East and then throughout Europe.

Unless the US responds effectively, he warned the Rice audience, the Soviets will gain control of the West's major energy supplies. If the US fails to act, he emphasized, Soviet power will escalate ''because then the price of oil will be counted not in dollars or even in rubbles but in obedience to the Soviet Union.''

Recalling the great losses of two world wars, Teller said the US should not oppose the Soviets with ''armed resistance.'' Because the Soviets are ''chess players,'' not adventurers, he said, ''as long as the Soviets cannot be sure of success, they will not attack.''

He said there are two keys to US defense: developing new weapons to defend against nuclear attack and making concerted efforts to develop all possible energy sources, supplementing oil with coal, nuclear, and solar energy.

Teller said easily transported and easily used oil is the most suitable energy source for poorer developing countries - and therefore wealthier nations should develop alternate fuels to free more oil for the third world.

Teller sees coal becoming more useful with the development of ''methacoal,'' a relatively clean-burning slurry of coal particles mixed with methanol or wood alcohol.

He hopes stringent safety measures will overcome Americans' resistance to nuclear-generated electricity.

The man often labeled ''the father of the hydrogen bomb'' said, ''The problem of energy does not have one solution--it has many solutions.'' The US can find solutions, he said, if it remembers that ''there is one resource which is forever renewable. That is human ingenuity, and in the past America has been in the forefront of . . . human ingenuity.''

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